About The Experiment


 

I run an automated program (or a “bot”) that sends you lots of little packages, bought from Amazon, AliExpress, Etsy and other sites across the internet with free shipping. You give the bot some funds, a shipping address and how many packages you want ordered. The bot does the rest!

Quite a few subscribers have actually posted unboxing videos on YouTube, so you can see what the bot has been buying. Check out links in the menu above for more.

You can give the bot instructions as to what sort of packages you want, for example to only buy beads or postcards or anime items, or you can have it buy completely random packages and let the bot surprise you.

Once you sign up, you will receive login details for a secure page where you can manage your account. In addition to seeing what packages are on their way, you can provide feedback for items that have arrived.

The bot uses these data to pick better packages, and avoid buying bad ones. It has a big database of feedback on tens of thousands of packages it has ordered. The bot is more likely to buy products that receive good feedback and doesn’t re-buy items when the data show it is boring or uninteresting.

So if you sign up with a particular keyword, like ‘crafts’ or ‘legos’, the bot can look back at items it has shipped before with the same keyword and systematically find the best surprises. Of course, the bot does not buy great items all the time. Over time it learns and improves as it collects more data.

This project was inspired by XKCD, however it not affiliated with the web comic or Randall Munroe. Please don’t sue me!

How do I cancel?
Login at bobcatinbox.com/myboxes, click the Billing tab and ‘Pause Subscription’ in order to stop the subscription from renewing. The bot will continue to spend funds you have given it.

How long will it take for the first packages to arrive?
Every package purchased by the bot has free shipping, and free shipping is rarely overnight or priority. Additionally, as most of the items are shipped from Asia they must go through customs. Shipping time varies, but expect the first package to arrive within four to eight weeks of signing up for the bot.

If I want to sign up to have the bot mail to several friends, can I do this in one transaction or do I sign people up sequentially?
You can do this in one transaction. After you sign up you will set a username/password for the bot to login at bobcatinabox.com/myboxes where you can change your shipping address, add multiple shipping addresses and allocate your monthly budget among them.

You can also set different keywords for each address and set how many packages each address should get (i.e. 1-2 packages at $5/month for your favorite cousin and 5-10 packages at $10/month for your best friend).

If I were to add another address to have things sent to my grandmother or nephew, am I able to do a separate keyword list for each address or would they all be the same? 
You can certainly set different keywords for different addresses. The keyword page looks like this with multiple addresses…

Do I *have* to set keywords to get packages, or does a lack of keywords just make the packages totally random? 
You don’t need to set keywords to get packages. However the bot will wait a bit for you to set keywords before buying anything, so not setting keywords will delay the first packages by 1-2 weeks.

If you select ‘random’ as a keyword you should get totally random packages a bit faster.

Are additional keywords OR or AND?
With keywords the bot uses an OR operator not an AND. If you submit a comma separated list of keywords (for example: red, gadget, craft, star wars) the bot will search for each keyword separately. That is, a selected package will only need to match one of the keywords not all of the keywords (red OR gadget OR craft OR star wars). The more keywords the better.

What kind of items does the bot buy?
There is a wide and expanding universe of odds and ends that are offered online for under a dollar, with free shipping. From North America, there are many merchants selling old postcards, stationary, fun memo pads, baseball cards, ties, books and memorabilia. From Asia, there are craft items, manga, anime, beads, industrial parts, stickers, jewelry, cellphone accessories and pretty much everything else you can imagine (plus lots you cannot). From Europe there are rings, bracelets, charms and bits of ribbon. It is hard to generalize, as the items are quite different and there is huge variety. Check out the stats and video pages for more information on the items bought by the bot.

Can I sign up if I am outside the US?
Yes, the bot can ship to nearly every country on the planet. It is not limited to the US and there are many subscribers in Europe, South America, Asia and Australia. Some items of course will not ship outside North America. But the bot will only buy items that can be shipped to you, so you will get just as many packages as American subscribers.

How do the merchants make money on low cost items with free shipping?
The short answer is that I don’t know. For many of the items, merchants are certainly selling at a loss. But there are lots of sellers, on eBay and other online platforms, who keep offering items for next to nothing with free shipping….so the bot will keep buying them! As most of the items are shipped from Asia, many of the merchants pay several dollars for “free shipping”. A good number of the items bought by the bot will have “Shipping: $5” or something similar printed on the custom form! Even though the cost to ship is several times the winning bid, merchants fulfill the order and ship the items the bot buys. Perhaps they have a discounted shipping deal that makes it worthwhile. It is something of a mystery as to why they offer the items for such low prices on eBay, as it is easy to set a reserve price or start the auction at a higher bid. Perhaps the merchants ship these small items to boost their feedback scores or hope that they will be bundled with other purchases.

For more information, head over here or here (thanks to subscriber Mitchell B. for the finding the links).

How does the bot make money?
The bot is able to make money, even with payment processing costs and overhead. This is because for some reason there are packages available with free shipping that you can order for practically nothing online.

What does not go towards packages pay to feed the team running the bot and growing the project.

If I add/remove/change addresses or funds, do the changes take effect immediately or at the next billing cycle?
The changes take effect immediately unless your total budget decreases (across all addresses), in which case the change takes effect next billing cycle.

 

If I wanted to add additional addresses, is there any way to tag them as “for child of X age” or as “gift”/”prank” or would it be better to create new accounts?
Email me to mark the address as a child or gift address, no need to create new accounts.

 

If I cancel my subscription, will I still receive all of the packages that are on there way or not yet purchased? If I had, say, $10 left over that the bot hasn’t spent, will the bot continue to spend that money and send packages after I cancel?
You will get all the packages that you paid for. So if you cancel and have $10 left, the bot will continue to spend the money and send packages. This means that you will likely continue getting a package every now and then well after you have canceled the subscription.

 

Do keyword changes take effect immediately?
Keyword changes are implemented once per week. However items bought for keywords might take quite a bit longer to show up depending on shipping times.

 

Can you open source the bot?
I would love to make the bot open source. However as Bobcat In A Box is very much in the tradition of Mechanical Turk, that would simply be impossible.